Take That to the Fair! The Rule of Expansion

HeartMark Health logo with the heart hand gesture invented by Tali Lehavi
Here is another useful fact that no one else has ever talked about because it is another HeartMark Health original: The Rule of Expansion.

The Rule of Expansion refers to how much bulk space food takes up in your stomach after it sits there for a few minutes. It assumes that you want to maximize efficient eating for the amount of space you have. You have very little space in there. You don’t want to expand beyond the necessary. Your goal should be to fill up the space with the highest amount of what you really need and the least amount of what you don’t need. What you don’t need can slow you down, make you feel tired, steal nutrients, and so on. In economic terms, it’s just like you’d rather have diamonds in your pocket than sand and $1 dollar paper bills. So how do you identify what food is easiest to carry and worth the most nutrition at the same time?

My answer is something I would have my daughters take to a science fair. It’s the HeartMark Health™ Rule of Expansion. If you drop a piece of chicken in water, the chicken will not change its shape. It will not expand. If you drop a piece of cracker, and wait long enough, it will expand. Notice also that the chicken is dense. It drops lower. The cracker will float. You can now visualize your stomach a little better.

Now for some basic definitions. The chicken is an example of protein. When I say protein, I mean choices that have at least 18 grams per serving. The fat content should be half the amount of the number of protein or less than half. Any higher fat amount will be less efficient, and for some people less healthy. If you eat it, it will cost you more in terms of filling up the space with less efficient options. You will have less room for valuable calcium choices or less space for essential fats, for example. Your space in your stomach is limited. Pick the choices that give you the most for your space.

The cracker is an example of a starch. Even if the cracker is from whole grain, it is still a starchy food. For HeartMark Health, starchy foods do not count as an example of protein. Some starchy foods can have 7 grams of protein. But they behave in your body differently from animal protein—they expand and ferment and don’t mix well at the same time as what I put in the protein group.

Make a HeartMark and listen to your hunger level. How hungry are you? When you are super hungry in the pit of your stomach, drop protein into your belly. You want it to be clean, pure protein that will not have anything that might expand prematurely. For me, animal protein works best. The benefit is that it goes straight to the hunger to fill it up. It reaches the pit where it belongs. It will fill you up for a lot longer than any other food choice without making you gain weight. Eating in between meals does speed up your metabolism, but choose high protein foods even for these mini snacks—if you feel this real deep down hunger.

One problem with just eating protein by itself: Protein has no fiber. Your body will not be able to break down the protein so it can use it (for growth and repair) unless you mix this amount with fiber. Fiber comes from fruits and vegetables. (Fiber is also in whole grains but we are avoiding whole grains because they don’t mix well with the protein.)

The best way to eat protein is to add fiber before, during, and after. If you are in a rush, eat an apple, or a whole tomato or cucumber. If you have time, eat a salad. It’s fine to eat just the protein, and just the salad, separately but close in time. It’s a great way to feel the hunger pit fill up first from the protein so you know how much to truly eat. Try it on your body and see if you can stay regular… Pay attention. Visualize your stomach, listen to it, eat, pay attention to the hunger, fill it up, and keep going. Use the HeartMark concept of mindful eating—taking the time to listen to your body. Don’t pay attention to the serving suggestion on the box. The serving suggestions are not your stomach. I could write a whole other article just about that. Listen to your stomach to decide when you are no longer hungry. You will get really good at it.

The cracker from the experiment is an example of a starchy food. Starchy foods come from grains. (Please don’t confuse starches with carbohydrates which include fruits and vegetables.) Starches really don’t belong in this protein-vegetable mix at this time. The starches would interact with the liquids. Unlike the water in your experiment cup, the starches actually interact with acids. They expand, ferment, and disrupt the absorption of the other food.

In addition, starches don’t give you the long term energy that protein does. Instead, they expand, take up space that you need for more nutrient dense options, and leave you hungry again an hour later. This means that you will want to eat again an hour later. Hopefully, you won’t reach for more starches. If you add up the total sugar (because starches break down into sugar,) it will be much higher than if you had just focused on filling up your hunger for real—with protein. Mini snacks of starches add up to a higher total daily sugar intake.

When you start your day with starches and other sugars, your body experiences a sugar high and low that it needs to regulate by eating more and more sugars. Read my “Daily Set Point Theory for sugar and water” to understand this point further. Basically, minimize the sugar intake for a lower daily total.

Too many people think that the “heavy” protein will weigh them down, or that it’s too “real” or too fattening. While protein is “real food,” it is also exactly what your body needs. It works to curb the hunger.

Reaching for starches when you’re starving is like putting cotton balls in place of your hunger. The starches soak up and expand. This temporary space filler doesn’t hold you long enough. Again, you end up eating more frequently. And if you don’t eat, you’re slowing your metabolism, which is bad.

To eat most efficiently, leave the whole grain starches for another time. If you save them for the end of the meal, you’ll be better off. You will end up enjoying the whole grains but not at the cost of valuable space that you need for more valuable options. Whole Grains do have benefits. But when your space is very limited, you have to make choices. You have to choose the diamond options.

Of course, you can let yourself have the starches from whole grains. But keep in mind the visuals so that you make informed choices. And pay attention to how you feel. Listen to your energy level. Listen to yourself. You might be able to use gluten free grains more easily, like quinoa. In general, for deep down hunger—reach for high protein amounts with little sugars or fat.

Always choose foods that are not processed. Avoid high salts. Avoid strange, unnatural fillers, preservatives, and other artificial ingredients. That’s a given, right?

The best way to enjoy whole grains when you want to optimize your space usage is to keep the whole grains for the evening. If you’ve had the genuine amounts of protein that your body asked for all day, you will truly not be hungry in that deep down hunger way by evening. You will feel like you need a “pick me up.” It’s a completely different sensation for food. Whole grains are ideal for that. Yogurt, beans, cheese snacks, and other foods that are not heavy in protein but have some are great.

When you eat starchy food in the evening, it releases serotonin which is relaxing. It will make you happy. It will be easier on your stomach while you sleep. It will not interact badly with previous foods.

For every meal that I just mentioned, whether small or big, never forget to add calcium. Calcium balances the acids, gets absorbed better because of the acids, and balances out the protein. You have to eat calcium in every meal of protein and fiber. I don’t consider starches a required food group. Calcium is required. It’s a perfect combo: protein+fiber and calcium. Repeat that many times, and you will have energy, stay slim, and stay regular. 

HeartMark Health is always keen on listening to your body. Start with that. Add some information from reading about health. Learn. It is your body. You have one body, one life. You have to take care of it. It’s a gift. If you take care of it, you will be a great example to others, too.

Please avoid health suggestions that dumb down the information. Avoid suggestions that keep you from feeling and thinking on your own. Avoid any advice that is not a real habit that you can maintain. Habits take time to adopt and time to break. A habit that is good for you is worth starting. Avoid any changes that can cause sudden fluctuations in your system because that is never healthy for your hormones.

If you are not a fan of animal protein, you can find other wonderful sources that will work well for you. There’s a high protein low fat almond cheese with 20 percent calcium that I love. And if you are a fan of anything that works that is a real food, please share it!

I HeartMark You!


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